Scotland Is Calling: Return to the Isle of Lewis

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The main road in Stornoway.

I have to get this one just right because my husband is descended from the MacAulays of Lewis and he’s very, very proud of his Scottish heritage. We were here once before, during our honeymoon (19 years earlier) and had stayed at a Bed & Breakfast run by Catherine & Donald MacAulay. We still occasionally talk about a meal they served us that consisted of cod with a white cream sauce, mashed potatoes, cauliflower, and a pound cake with canned peaches, topped with vanilla ice cream–the White Meal. It was a meal I recreated often in those early years of our marriage, when I didn’t have picky kids to have to cook for as well. It had almost fallen out of my cooking memory.

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Does it look like night time? After 9pm and a rainbow to guide our way…

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Our lovely home away from home in Braghar

This time around, we arrived by ferry at around 9:00pm and still had another hour to drive to our rental house. I’d picked it out (again) on Airbnb and had chosen to stay away from the only large town on Lewis, the capital of Stornoway. Instead, our home base would be Braghar for our three-day stay, on the west coast.

The weather was highly changeable, as it is most days on the Isle of Lewis. As the northernmost of the Western Isles and westernmost of inhabited Scotland, Lewis (and it’s southern neighbor, Harris) gets storms off the IMG_4967Atlantic that have been brewing unimpeded by other large land masses. The usual weather includes rain, and all that varies is how much of it comes on any given day. Still, while we were there the weather was unbelievably tame and beautiful. The benefit of rain followed quickly by sun is, of course, the propensity of rainbows, and we saw a bunch during our stay. Lewis-born, bestselling crime novel writer Peter May (if you haven’t read his Lewis Trilogy go buy it NOW!) summed it up best when he mentions, in one of the books, that a childhood on Lewis is a childhood of rainbows.

Lewis is a hauntingly beautiful place, with little to no trees and lots and lots of rocks. Both Lewis and Harris have stunning beaches–some would rival the Caribbean for their startling blue waters and pristine sand, save for the fact that the water is MUCH colder. The wind blows a lot, and storm clouds are usually either further off or closer than they look: when the land stretches off unbroken for as far as the eye can see, it’s too easy to misjudge the distance. IMG_4935There are several historical and heritage sites scattered throughout Lewis and we planned to visit many of them on Sunday, since most shops and museums are closed that day. The weather mostly cooperated, though we were prepared when it didn’t. Lewis plays host to some of the best-preserved and most impressive standing stone circles in all of the U.K.–the Calanais/Callanish Standing Stones.

IMG_4919There are three sets, though we’ve only visited the largest of them. (A family joke was made out of the fact we passed their location so many times during our stay that once we stopped there merely so I could take advantage of the public restrooms). The Stones, which I’m convinced take the shape of a Celtic cross if viewed from the air, will forever be the standard by which I measure every other set of standing stones. Since the first time I saw Callanish 19 years before, I’ve never had the desire to see Stonehenge, and the other stone circles I’ve seen only pale in comparison.

IMG_4929We also visited the Norse kilns, which remind me of Highland coos (yes, coos–it’s not a typo) when viewed from a distance (not totally original, but a historical re-creation and renovation).

IMG_4907Norse MillsWe also visited Dun Carloway Broch, an Iron Age stone fortress-type dwelling. Legend also has it that, 500 years ago, the Morrisons of Ness attempted to hide at the broch with the intention of raiding cattle on MacAulay lands, but were “smoked out.” Doug will like that story when he reads this.

Dun CarlowayHistory is a stunning thing, and you realize how connected humans are to a land when you walk on the ground your ancestors walked upon and touch stones that your ancestors may also have touched. Even while we endeavor to tame the sea and the skies and the space beyond, we remain tethered to the earth, bound by memory and instinct.

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Inside Dun Carloway: rocks of ages past

As momentous and memorable as our entire trip, and especially our time with the family on Lewis, was, I know that there are two moments that will forever warm Doug’s heart. The first is having the next generation of MacAulays walk upon the ground, skin on grass, of his native land on the morning of our first full day:

kids on lewisAnd along the same vein, when they all again dug their feet into the earth and the sea, together, at the beach at Uig:

IMG_5057Uig is a stunning place. Never before (and I’ve traveled to many coasts) have I seen a beach so wide. We were almost left wondering where the water was.

IMG_5031Uig is the site where the Lewis Chessman were found (our chess set at home is a replica, bought on our last trip here) and we quite enjoyed the oversized pieces marking the area. We had a delightful tea at a cozy cafe attached to the Uig museum where Doug looked up MacAulays, I immersed myself in history, and the kids probably had more fun than most other museums on the entire trip, which were easily hundreds of times the size.

IMG_5015While there, I also found the perfect place for our next house:

IMG_5048Who needs writer retreats when this could be your daily view?

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Sand, sea, mountains – all I need in one place…

We actually were out there on the sand so long that the storm clouds moved in and we got drenched heading back to the car. We were soaked and laughing hysterically by the time we reached it.

IMG_5069After Uig, we headed across the island to explore a bit of Stornoway and do a little shopping. I treated myself to a handbag made from Harris Tweed by a local artist. It was pricey, but I wanted to support the local artists. Isn’t it pretty?

2015-07-16 07.20.00They had a lot of wonderful Harris Tweed items and I was in the shop a while. The family was waiting outside:

Stornoway KidsOnce again, we didn’t get a chance to explore and experience all that the Isle of Lewis has to offer and that’s okay. We’ll be back, again, some day! And then there’s Harris, which we drove through to get the ferry over to Skye. It’s got the mountains of the islands and incredible beaches. That’s on the list too. 🙂

I’m out of words, but not photos (and I narrowed them down!). Here’s the kitchen of our house–we had great meals around that table. And then there was me, at 3am, waking up to dry our laundry. It was an all-in-one appliance, and I ended up rewashing my half-dry clothes. Fun times!

IMG_5082The (famous) Whale Bone Arch right down the hill:

IMG_4970When you have a place with lots of wind, you take advantage of the resource. Becky as a windmill:

IMG_4910Sometimes the roads were just one lane with passing cut-outs. At least this one was newly paved, with no hedgerows to block our vision:

IMG_5009 (2)Trees, and some waterfalls too – on the way to Uig:

IMG_5012 (2)Cutting through Harris to catch the ferry:

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Enlarge this one on your screen and just breath the beauty in

Next: Skye, Eileen Donan Castle & Spean Bridge

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